Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ilianons: Home at Last

The guns are silenced, each one sealed and safely locked away, hopefully forever. The stench of gunpowder permeating the air is replaced by the sweet aroma freshly-pressed sugarcane tubes passing though the newly-installed Muscovado processing facility that would bring a big change to the lives of the 1,280 residents living in 227 households in the area.

Gone are the days when peace of mind and body was a remote fantasy as residents of this farm in Matalam, Cotabato go to sleep with the fear that anytime during the night, war will erupt and send them off from the comforts of their beds and drive them away from their homes.

The wounds of war had been healed. Ilian has successfully shaken off its images of its being a war zone. The days spent in evacuation centers engulfed in fear, loss and deprivation of freedom and all earthly possessions remain but a memory as residents get up from the ashes of a bitter and war-torn yesterday.

Farmers can now plow their fields and plant their crops without having the burden of carrying their guns on their backs to protect themselves from the enemy.
Now, one can see crops and vegetables creeping around the houses as each household take part in planting sustainable crops that would augment the economic stability of the family.

A major change was brought about when the government of the Philippines-United Nations Multi-donor Programme (GOP-UNMDP 3) and Mindanao Land Foundation, a non-government organization turned-over the P761,000 community-based Muscovado Processing Facility to Ilian Moro Farmers Association in Barangay Ilian on May 19 this year as an act of sustaining its peace agreement.

The Muscovado project is "a response to the peace and development plan that would strengthen the call for peace and development," said Winston Camari¤as, UNMDP project coordinator.

In Wednesday's visit to the area, Ilian barangay captain Cutin M. Idtug told Australian Ambassador Ruth Pearce that the barangay folks had been given training for sugarcane planting and brown sugar production provided by the GOP-UNMDP 3 and the Technical Educations Skills Development Authority (Tesda).

In addition to this, Ilian farmers were also given trainings on non-farm livelihood activities but most of all, they received trainings in culture of peace, which, according to Idtug is the most worthwhile because it helped the farmers understand the importance of peace.

Looking at the still and quiet barangay of Ilian, one would never guess that this very place had been the center of conflict between the military troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF), and between the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) from the early 70's to 1996.

Bordered by Barangay Natutungan in the north and barangay Kilada in the south, Ilian is a typical farming barangay of Matalam, Cotabato covering 684-hectares of sugarcane, rice and corn fields.
Ilian was declared as a Peace and Development Community (PDC) by the Selatan Kutawato State Revolutionary Committee on September 5, 2000
Of the whole area, 205 hectares is planted with sugarcanes, 208 hectares planted with planted with corn, 101 hectares for rice and the rest are for bio-diversified plants and crops of bananas, coconuts, mangoes and Gmelina trees, and other sustainable plants.

Ilian is only accessible by land transportation from Matalam the during good weather but when the water level in Marber river which cuts Ilian from the nearest barangay road rises, Ilian is cut-off from the rest of the barangays.

"This area where the MNLF is based became a no man's land for several years," MNLF commander Aladin Datu Dima Ambel Al-haji of the Selatan Kuwatawo State Revolutionary Committee told Sun.Star in an interview on Wednesday.

Ambel said he was only 26 years old when war erupted in Ilian in 1973.

"There is no war between Christians and Muslims. The war is only between the MNLF and the government," Ambel said, adding that they now look at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as their brothers.

"We now support the government, and right now we need more ammunitions- not to fight the soldiers but to fight poverty, dahil ito ang pinakamatinding kaaway ng lahat (this is everyone's biggest enemy)," Ambel added.

Ambel added that they had already surrendered all their firearms to the government as a sign that they embraced the
peace building programs.

Ilian barangay captain Cutin M. Idtug said that the only counterpart of the people in their place is their unity.

"The most important trainings we received had been those on the culture of peace. The peace that we have here is because of those trainings," Idtug said.

He added that before the war, Ilian residents were a very sad and displaced people but now they are happy and every household has taken part in the biggest development which is the capacity building of the people.

Idtug said the economic status of the 227 households in Ilian have greatly improved through the project-capacity building.
"I would like to thank the joint effort of the Australian and the Philippine government for understanding and seeing the needs of our community," he added.

With funds streaming in from the GOP-UN MDP3, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with the local government units, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Special Zone for Peace and Development (SZOPAD), the Ilian residents picked themselves up from the ravages of war.

Ilian qualified for development support through the assistance programs of the GOP-UN MDP 3 and these is largely due to the initiatives of its two peace and development advocates (PDAs) who are non-MNLF combatants who offer voluntary service as mobilizers of the PDC.
The PDAs, who are Idtug and Zainuddin Mamangkas worked closely with the government officials and the local government units in the peace advocacy.

"Because of the assistance of the GOP-UN MDP Phase 3, the warn-torn area of Ilian is growing and improving," Idtug said.
He added that because of their perseverance, they were able to build 205 core shelters from the P9 million fund from the DSWD. Ilian was also able to access P850,000 from the Islamic Fund and constructed two mosques and a Madraza or a muslim school.

From the P820,000 funding from the Department of Labor and Employment, Ilian residents were able to construct a warehouse to reduce the cost of post harvest damages for their crops, and solar drier and other equipment.

From the Presidential Social Fund of P250,000, they were able to build a school building to cater to the educational needs of the little children, a barangay health center and a barangay hall from the P140,000 funds provided by Senator Gringo Honasan and from the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA).

Today, Ilian is a far cry from the barely-recognizable barangay six years ago. The tall grass and thick shrubs that covered the entire area were replaced by crops. The residents who were used to fleeing at the sound of a gunfire finally acquired peace and returned home to start anew, glad to be home at last.*

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